How to start an end-of-life conversation with someone you love

Aug 8, 2020 | Advance Care Planning

Starting an end-of-life conversation can sound like a daunting task. Yet these absolutely necessary conversations can be an enormous source of relief for all concerned.

Whether your current situation has created time sensitive need for an end-of-life conversation, or you simply wish to make sure you have all your choices heard, ExSitu can help.

Here’s 5 easy tips to help start an end-of-life conversation with someone you love

Start small

End-of-life conversations can seem daunting. In reality, the first step off the blocks is usually the hardest.

Death and what it means to have a well-supported end-of-life looms large in our imagination. It tends to dwarf our waking thoughts once we begin pondering.

Yet the reality is the first end-of-life conversation doesn’t have to be full of facts and figures. Or tied to a host of dreams and plans. It doesn’t need to even be thought all the way through. It might even be an invitation for them to do the ExSitu process with you- or to let them know the results.

It simply needs the time and space to grow. Think of your end-of-life conversation as a newly planted seedling. Over time, with a little care and attention, time in the sunshine and oxygen, a minute here and there of watering, the seedling will grow.

So too will those initial conversations.

The first step in any seedling’s life is planting that seed. By simply mentioning you’d like to have a conversation about your choices, you’re beginning the process.

Think about what you’d like to achieve

Like most of the important discussions in life, an end-of-life conversation with a clear focus on what you want to achieve is best.

This doesn’t always mean breaking down ideas about documents or what happens at the funeral home.

Most of us want to have an end-of-life conversation to allay our fears and get our wishes out in the open.

Think about the situations where you or your loved ones may be impacted. It can be a positive of negative impact.

For example, you may wish for your dog to go to your best friend instead of a relative. Or you might need to talk about your end-of-life to make sure it reflects your values rather than that of another family member.

By having some idea of what you would like everyone to gain from the conversation, you can help lead it to the best possible outcome.

For example, you may want to talk about:

  • Asking for a particular person’s direct support with an aspect of your end-of-life care
  • Where you would like your end-of-life care to be- at home, in a hospice, with a relative, in a hospital.
  • What kinds of treatments would you like and what others might not be for you.
  • Other aspects of a life-limiting diagnosis or other event that matter to you.

Let people know you’d like to talk

Giving people time and notice for an end-of-life conversation can really help make it worthwhile for all concerned.

Choose a moment that allows time for discussion. It doesn’t have to be specific. Many people find large family gatherings and holiday visits allow for the opportunity to talk with everyone together as a family.

You may also find that your family is scattered to the four winds but that booking time into a family catch-up on Zoom or during a regular catch up family phone can be a great opportunity to hold an end-of-life conversation.

By flagging you have plans in mind and that you’d like to share them ahead of time, you can also avoid any shock or losing the opportunity as a person feels unprepared to hear what you have to say.

It can be as simple as saying, “I know we’ve talked about my will, but I’d also like to talk about my advance care plan…” and suggesting a day and time.

Put values, not property, at the heart of the process

One of the most common misconceptions about end-of-life conversations is that people want to hear about wills or property or the nitty gritty of funeral planning.

Often, the concept of looking at someone you hold dear as a financial transaction can be quite confronting and even off-putting to family members. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have these kinds of chats at some point. However, beginning the process of having an end-of-life conversation with values at the centre can make it fair more appealing and welcoming.

For example, opening up the conversation about wanting to die at home, surrounded by your favourite people and your favourite things, is a lot more comforting and welcoming than talking about random items or furniture. Exploring what you would like in terms of care, what level of pain is acceptable, or even what you’ve arranged and where to find the information helps your loved ones enormously.

Remember that the emotional impact of losing you and the idea of that happening may need some getting used to. By leading the conversation from the perspective of reducing their stress as well as giving your family and friends the opportunity to support you, you open the door to fruitful and future end-of-life conversations.

Come at it from the best of intentions

When family and friends voice their discomfort at discussions about death, aged care or what to do if we become ill or are otherwise unable to care for ourselves, recognise they love you and wish the best for you.

Then gently remind them that the best for you is to know they understand what your wishes, wants and needs may be. By knowing what you want to achieve and what your intentions are, it becomes easier to support our loved ones to hear us.

If you have decided the conversation is important because it informs some aspect of your advance care plan, it’s OK to be open about that fact.

So too, if you want to have the conversation so you can move on, safe in the knowledge everything is organised, this is OK too.

Or if you are struggling to wrap your head around some of the choices you’d like to make but need a second opinion, it’s more than OK to ask.

Whatever you decide, as long as you come at it from a place of care and compassion for yourself and for those you love, your end-of-life conversation can be incredibly rewarding.

Viewing an end-of-life conversation as a healthy part of life

Are you ready to have your end-of-life conversation? Find out how ExSitu can help you or you and your family make it work for you.

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